When It Comes to Your Dental Patients, Be a Maven and a Mensch

Rick Mars, DDS


One of the most misunderstood relationships in the business world is the dentist/patient relationship. ​Dentists spend so much time trying to figure out what impresses our patients, what will keep our existing patients happy, and what will drive new patients to our offices. Patients, on the other hand, often have a completely different wish list of what they want most from their dentists. 

Dentists often spend their entire careers perfecting their skill set and learning new skills so they can become better clinicians and deliver the best services to their patients. We build fancy offices with NASA inspired technology. 

We do our best to prepare the ultimate crown margins that our lab technicians can see from across the room and do awesome Class II composites with margins that are impeccable and contacts where the floss snaps down perfectly. We are in constant search for the Holy Grail that will put us head and shoulders above every dentist in our towns. 

Then there’s our patients. You can do all of the above but run 20 minutes late, and you “don’t value” their time. And if your assistant leaves a drop of blood on the cuspidor, you will be destined to have one of the worst online reviews that you can imagine.

If you have an entertaining Instagram account and develop thousands of followers, however, it won’t just impress many of your patients, but also your kids and their friends! When was the last time a patient said to you, “I love the great margins on my new crown!” or “that DO that you did on tooth #13 was outstanding!”

I think most of us would agree that all of these factors, from our office’s hygiene to the great crown margin to the Instagram to running on schedule, are vital in the 2020 dentist/patient relationship. But there is something that hasn’t changed in the last hundred years of dentistry and for sure won’t change in the next hundred years.

Becoming a Maven and a Mensch

A truly great dentist isn’t defined by impressive bells and whistles, such as the latest technology or a sleek office space. Don’t read me wrong. Emerging technologies are often a blessing and can have a huge impact on the quality of patient care. Clean, modern dental practices are often welcoming and give patients the right impression of the type of ship you’re running. 

But I’ve learned that it’s something else, something a little more human, that’s the most important part of being a truly great dentist. Before I go much further, though, I want to define a couple of terms: maven and mensch

A maven is an expert in a particular field. This word is derived from the Yiddish word meyvn, meaning a person who understands.  

Mensch is also a Yiddish word that roughly translates as someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. Being called a mensch is one of the highest compliments one can receive. 

I believe that to care for your patients to the best of your ability, you must be both a maven and a mensch.  

Making a Maven

After working in dentistry for more than three decades, I’d say I know how to care for a person’s smile and have become a sort of maven. But that doesn’t mean I have all the answers. Occasionally, a patient will come to me with an issue for which I simply don’t have a solution. I see this as an opportunity to hone my craft. 

In my office, if I don’t have the answer to something, I consult an expert who will. Whether a patient requires the specialized knowledge of a periodontist or root canal expert, we will find the correct answer to whatever questions arise. This process helps both dentist and patient learn something new. 

Choosing to Be a Mensch

While one might inevitably become a maven through years of experience, you must choose to be a mensch every day. Sure, we dentists need to make a living. But that doesn’t mean we can’t always do what is right. Honesty and integrity build trust and keep patients coming back for a lifetime. Remember, one loyal customer is far more valuable than one new client.  

At my practice, the Dental Care Group, we also give back to the surrounding community. I learned from my father that part of being a mensch is giving to others without expectation. Every year for the last nine years, we have offered a free day of dentistry for our community at our Dentistry from Our Hearts event.  

People begin lining up outside the office the night before the event to secure their place. This statement isn’t meant to brag, but rather to show the impact these services have on the lives of those who receive them. We make an effort to get the word out about the event every year, but it’s not about publicity. It’s about helping our community and setting an example for others. 

In short, it’s about using your skills as a maven to be a mensch. Get really good at what you do, but never forget to be ethical, honest, and someone your patients and team look up to.

Dr. Mars is a general dentist and the author of The Big Smile: The Principles of Modern Dentistry – for Dentists and Patients. He has practiced patient-centered dentistry in the Miami area for more than 25 years. He is an Invisalign Platinum Plus Provider and has lectured internationally on Invisalign for over a decade. While he practices family dentistry, he also emphasizes cosmetic dentistry. Dr. Mars was voted one of America’s Top Dentists for Invisalign, Cosmetic, and Implant Dentistry by the Consumers’ Research Council of America. He also has been named Invisalign’s GP Faculty Member of the Year and was awarded the distinction of Master Faculty at the Annual Invisalign Faculty Meeting in New Orleans. He attended Emory University for his undergraduate education and Georgetown University School of Dentistry for his doctorate of dental surgery.

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